Urban Sprawl: Meanderware Town and Country Bags

Photographer John Francis Peters
April 19, 2011

Moe Nadal sews beautiful bags by hand for his Meanderware line in a tiny studio on 110th Street. He sells his work by appointment there, too, sharing his showroom with a pet ferret and two country dogs he adopted while living out in New Mexico. The cramped, multipurpose space echoes Nadal’s mind, jumbling his left brain tuned to the financial necessities of urban hustle, and his right’s love for earthy labor and beat up leather. When we visited, he greeted us with windowsill chilled beers and explained his work’s origin.

After reading, be sure to check out our video tour of Nadal's life in uptown New York.

I grew up in cities, in New York and Boston, but my mom raised us with a country aesthetic. We heated our house with wood. My mom used to have five cords of wood dumped onto our front lawn. Imagine Vermont in the middle of the city. I started out as a photographer but I was tired of not having a physical product. Art on the wall wasn’t enough for me, I needed utility. Even in my photography I romanticized craft. I was working for magazines and did stories on craftspeople in New England. My girlfriend showed me how to hand sew with a needle and mono-filament. It’s just basic: sewing two fabrics together.

My girlfriend and I never wanted to spend too much time on the East Coast. We moved to New Mexico to get out of New York, and I was right at home. I didn’t have to have another job, I just focused on the bags. I taught myself new techniques, I never took a class or anything. I couldn’t afford to go to the fabric stores, so I’d go to old awning shops and dig through the dumpsters. I made crazy wallets with country fringe coming down. I paid bills doing gear and zipper repair, too. You can make pretty good money since not everyone knows how to do it anymore. I’d meet new clients at Whole Foods.

I made a bunch of bags, then I came back to New York to hustle. Sometimes you have to be here to help your business. I sell here. I’m Jewish, my people came from cities, we know how to survive. I go door to door. That’s how I met and started buying for cheap from the guy who gets materials for Filson. There’s so many fabric sellers in New York. I find treasure here, great leathers that age well. I spend my money on fabrics, not sneakers. I get the best stuff.

Being here, too, you spend your whole life looking at people. In fashion, New York can be like the holy grail, but I want to be a master craftsman. That’s my goal. So many people in this city carry plastic shit that breaks down, but hopefully Meanderware is an heirloom. It’s not that there’s not good stuff in New York. There really is. I was walking in Williamsburg and they tore down a beautiful old bodega, and there was a beautiful blue vinyl awning on the ground, really heavy. I think it might’ve been an old barbershop so it had great cursive. I took out my pocketknife, cut big pieces off, and made a bag.

Urban Sprawl: Meanderware Town and Country Bags